Getting from Can Tho to Mui Ne – Broken seats, missing buses, and sleep deprivation

We were throwing around a few different options regarding transportation to our next destination, the coastal town of Mui Ne, known for its sand dunes and kite/windsurfing.

Option A) Take the 3.5h bus back to Saigon.  Spend another night in Saigon.  Take a 6h bus the next morning to Mui Ne.

Option B) Take the 3.5h bus back to Saigon.  Catch the next 6h bus to Mui Ne.

Option C) Take the 3.5h bus back to Saigon.  Spend a few hours in Saigon.  Take the 11pm 6h sleeper bus to Mui Ne.

We decided Option C was preferable because it allowed us to enjoy a few more hours in Saigon, while also saving us a night’s accommodation since we’d be sleeping on the bus.

After breakfast, including some grilled bananas and coconut cakes, we  took a taxi back to the bus station outside Can Tho.  Our first mistake was allowing ourselves to be swept into one of the bus company offices without looking for the one used to get to Can Tho first.  We used Phuong Trang to get to Can Tho and had a perfectly pleasant experience, in contrast with what we were about to encounter.  We didn’t even catch the name of the bus company we had stumbled into, but the woman at the desk insisted that there were no big buses to Saigon and that the only option was a minibus.  Translate: This company in particular does not offer big buses to Saigon.  We naively took her word and allowed ourselves to be directed to a minibus (aka large van) with about 12 seats.

This is okay, it’s only a 3.5 hour ride!  Wrong.

Firstly, we ended up in the back row of the bus where the seats do not recline.  This wouldn’t have been a big deal, except for the fact that all of the other rows reclined a lot so the people sitting in front of us were essentially laying in our laps.  Like, small domestic airplanes are luxury compared to this.  We had good attitudes about it and comforted ourselves in the fact that it only cost us 90,000vnd ($4.20 USD) each.

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After about 30 minutes of sitting around (I think we were waiting for all the seats to be filled) we finally took off at about 10:30am.  As we departed and hit the first bump in the road, the row in front of us bounced into our knees.  Hard.  Now we understood why they were sitting at a 140 degree angle, the row of seats were actually broken.  Thus, every slight disturbance in the road caused the row to bounce almost violently.  In fact it looked quite unpleasant for the people sitting there as well as for us.  To avoid further trauma to our knee caps, we experimented with all sorts of unconventional positions for sitting.

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Luckily our spirits were relentlessly high today, because we would soon realize that this bus would also be stopping at least 20-30 times on the way to Saigon.  Apparently we had landed ourselves on the local bus, so it actually took about 4.5 hours due to the frequent stops.  At some points there were so many people packed onto this bus that they were not even in seats, including several small children.

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If nothing else, it made for a good story.  Every backpacking adventure has at least one hellish bus ride, and it surely won’t be our last.  We finally made it to Saigon and had to take another taxi back to Pham Ngu Lao st. where we were to catch the sleeper bus to Mui Ne.  We went ahead and purchased our ticket and headed to a nearby smoothie shop.  We enjoyed a coffee and a banana smoothie (and free wifi), and after a few hours there, we roamed around the backpacker district some more which is a lot of a fun at night time.

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Banana shake…yum

At this point it was around 6 or 7pm and we decided to go to Highlands Coffee, where we enjoyed a couple of mojitos and some more free wifi (yay blogging time!)  Around 10:30pm we walked back to the bus stop where we were informed that our bus would come at 11 and we should stand outside and wait for it.  Now, it’s worth noting that we chose Phuong Trang again since we had a good experience getting to Can Tho, but this didn’t go quite as smoothly.  The buses all say their destination on the front and we kept seeing buses headed to Dalat.  Mui Ne is on the way to Dalat, so we asked if these were the buses we were supposed to be getting on, but we were told our bus was still coming.  This happened several times, so we decided we would stop asking and wait for a bus that said Mui Ne on it.  Finally at 12am, a bus that said Mui Ne rolled up.  When we approached the door, the driver told us this was the 12:00 bus, our tickets were for the 11:00 bus, and that we should have been here at 10:45 to catch it.

We have been here since 10:30!  The bus did not come!

It was apparent that the driver did not fully understand what were saying and kept insisting that we missed the bus because we did not arrive early enough.  Normally we are not very pushy people, but we had already had a day full of transportation difficulties.  We were getting to Mui Ne, and we were getting there on this sleeper bus.  After all of the other passengers got on (it was not full), and a few more desperate pleas, the driver finally let us on the bus.

Sleeper buses can be great because they save you a night’s accommodation and you get to fully recline, making the ride pretty comfortable.  Our driver was pretty keen to lay on the horn and there was a distressed infant on board, so sleeping didn’t come quite as easy as we had expected.  Additionally, because we ended up taking a later bus, the drive was shorter because there was less traffic.  So we landed in Mui Ne just after 5am, a little early for finding a place to stay in a small town.

We were dropped off in front of some bungalows that didn’t appear to be open, so we just parked it out front and decided to wait until they were.  After about half an hour sitting in the dark, a man who appeared to be a security guard walked out and asked us what we were doing.  Do you have a room available?  He didn’t answer us, but got on his phone, made a call, and opened the gate.  A woman in a night gown appeared and lead us to one of the bungalows, which we promptly accepted and proceeded to fall asleep.

We knew getting to Mui Ne from Can Tho would be some kind of adventure, and despite the complications, we were glad to have finally made it to the beach!  In hindsight, it’s important to pay attention to what company you are booking (anything) with.  Sometimes companies will push you around in hopes of getting you to purchase before you’ve realized what you’re actually doing and what your other options are.  Additionally, if in doubt, ask every single bus if it’s the one you’re supposed to be on!  People will almost always help you if you ask.

Breakfast: 20,000vnd ($0.93)

Bananas/Coconut Cakes: 8,000vnd ($0.37)

1 Coca Cola: 15,000vnd ($0.70)

Taxi to Can Tho Bus Station: 30,000vnd ($1.40)

Hellish Minibus: 180,000vnd ($8.39)

Taxi to Pham Ngu Lao: 200,000vnd ($9.32)

Dinner: 162,000vnd ($7.55)

Coffee/Smoothie: 31,000vnd ($1.44)

Mojitos: 98,000vnd ($4.57)

Sleeper Bus: 270,000vnd ($12.58)

Total Spent: 1,014,000vnd ($47.25 USD)

River Life – Can Tho and the Mekong Delta

At this point in our journey we had originally intended to move on up the coast of Vietnam, but we changed our minds last minute and headed in the opposite direction.  After a few days in the big city, we were ready to wind down and check out the floating markets on the Mekong Delta, where the Mekong River empties into the South China Sea.

We decided to journey to the largest city in the region, Can Tho.  After a taxi to the mini bus station, a mini bus to the bus station, a 3.5 hour bus ride, and another taxi into the city, we spent an hour or so walking along the river and trying our first Banh Bao (Vietnamese Steamed Pork Buns).  I’m normally very excited to try new foods, but there was something about the quail egg hanging out in the meat that I just couldn’t get past.  Jojo enjoyed it, though.  We planned on waking up early the next day to see the floating markets so we turned in early.

We got up at about 5am and walked down to the river.  There were several small boats that tourists could hire to take around the markets.  We hopped in one and set off!

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Just set off, still dark!

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The river was very quiet and still dark when we set off.  We passed by a lot of homes, some of which you could see right into.  There were hardly any other boats around and it was very peaceful.  After about an hour, we came to the Cai Rang Market, the biggest floating market in the Mekong Delta!  The market was bustling yet still quiet at the same time.  It was fascinating to watch all of the exchanges.

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All the pineapples!

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We drifted through the market for another hour or so, then made our way through a narrow canal to the village areas.  We stopped at a noodle factory and got to watch how they make rice noodles.

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We wandered around this area for a little while, then got back on the boat and proceeded to the Phong Dien Market which we found a little more enjoyable than the Cai Rang, as it seemed more colorful and energetic.  Our boat guide even bought us some treats!

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After another hour or so exploring this market, we went through another narrow canal where we stopped and got out for lunch.  We explored this are area for a while, admiring the flora and waving to people as we passed by their homes.  The children were especially excited to see us and would shout “Hello! Hello!” and giggle when we said it back.  They also loved having their pictures taken!

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We cruised down the river for a long time until we finally reached the dock back in Can Tho.  The whole trip took about 7 hours and was a very nice experience, (despite paying more than we should have.)  We spent the rest of the evening exploring the city and trying some delicious banh trang at the street food market.  There are also heaps of seafood lining almost every street!

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Exploring this region was both fascinating and humbling and we were really glad we had changed plans at the list minute!  After a super long day, we were back in the room preparing for the next day’s adventure.

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Because why pay for laundry?

 

Tea: 25,000vnd ($1.17 USD)

Beer: 25,000vnd ($1.17 USD)

2-1.5L H2O: 30,000vnd ($1.40 USD)

Taxi: 50,000vnd ($2.33 USD)

Bus: 250,000vnd ($11.66 USD)

Taxi: 150,000vnd ($7.00 USD)

Dinner: 28,000vnd ($1.31 USD)

Accommodation: 315,ooovnd ($14.69 USD)

1/2 Total Spent: 873,000vnd ($40.73USD)

Mekong Boat: 840,000vnd ($39.19 USD)

Lunch: 225,000vnd ($10.50 USD)

Dinner: 20,000vnd ($0.93 USD)

Beer: 20,000vnd ($0.93 USD)

Accommodation: 315,000vnd ($14.69 USD)

1/3 Total Spent: 1,430,000 ($66.71 USD)